Gender is confusing. I’m going to talk about it but I’d like to preface this by saying that I am speaking for my own experience, not for anyone else. This is only my small story.
“Are you assuming my gender?”
It became a common joke at the high school last year. Initially I thought it was hilarious. I was wonderstruck by the prospect that not assuming someone’s gender could be spread in such a palatable way. I thought it was admirable that Shaker was so “woke” to trans rights that there was a widely understood meme about it. My agender friend didn’t like it so much. I did not understand her.
“I am not a lesbian, I just hate men…”
The audience chuckled, the comic paused and continued, “Truthfully, I feel a little bit like a boy and a little bit like a girl.“” This is one of Jes Tom’s more common jokes. They are a stand up comedian, but having their gender assumed is one joke they do not find funny. Since this assumption is a constant part of their life, they tell this joke at the beginning of most of their sets to introduce themselves as non-binary (they/them), clarifying to everyone how they would like to be addressed.
“A pronoun is just a sound for me and all I’m looking for in that sound is positivity” -Rain Dove
For me, labels have two sides. The outer side is made for other people to read. The inner side is an aid in self-discovery, giving us the language to understand ourselves. College applications spark this type of introspection, as you try your best to convey yourself to an institution that only has five minutes to get to know you. As these forms go, almost all of them asked for my gender, but this time is was different – there were more than two choices. Glancing at the list, it felt like it was a lie to check the box for “female”. I’ve since found there are many words to convey to an outside observer what I am – “Genderfluid”, “Queer”, “Non-binary”, “Other”. Like Rain Dove, a single label or pronoun is not central to my identity; I use anything that will convey to the observer enough about myself so they address me in a way I feel is correct.
“You’re like some cool hacker, a hacktress actually.”
My computer science teacher said this to me and it immediately felt wrong. Why did he feel the need to correct himself to feminize me? I didn’t feel this way at all. His word sparked comments throughout the class, poking at him for making up a word. I followed their lead, turned around, and used the words that had been pre-created for this moment a year ago- “Are you assuming my gender?” This time it wasn’t a joke, and though he initially took it as one, I used this opening to tell him that I actually identify as genderqueer. He took it in stride, saying that he considered himself a pretty progressive person. I was grateful that he accepted my identity, but clarified –
“Not progressive, just considerate.”
I guess if there is any moral to this meandering blog that is it- accept people unconditionally. You do not have to be progressive or some magical gender-bender, just a considerate human being. Treat people as they wish to be treated, ask for identities, pronouns and practice until you get it right. It can be confusing but that is not really the point. Listen our stories and ask us questions if we are open to it. I am right here with you, learning.